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Romans 7:14-25 - Homilies By T.f. Lockyer

"Sold under sin!"

Such is the deplorable result of the action of God's Law on man: sin is made to stand out blackly, in all its hideous evil; nay, it seems even stimulated to increased malignity of working. How so? Because of the intense opposition between the holy Law and an unholy nature: "For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin." But man's nature is not without its witness for the Divine; the spiritual is captive, but not destroyed; it is capable of apprehending and desiring, though not of really purposing and performing the good: and therefore, not merely is there a conflict between the spiritual Law and man's carnal nature, as described above, but between the spiritual nature of man himself, when quickened by the spiritual Law, and that carnal nature to which it is enslaved. These verses depict this opposition, and we have therefore—the desire for the good; the subjection to the evil; the hopeless conflict.

I. THE DESIRE FOR THE GOOD . Repeatedly, through this whole passage, the apostle speaks of those who are touched by the quickening action of the Law as desiring, and half purposing, the good. Thus, "I consent unto the Law that it is good;" "To will is present with me;" "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man;" "With the mind I serve the Law of God." And is not this verified by our experience? Our very nature constrains us to approve, to admire, the good. We have the witness in ourselves. The spirit made after God's image recognizes God. The light of conscience struggles upwards to its kindred light. Nay, more than this. If we do not stubbornly resist, the fair image of goodness commands, not merely our approval, but our desires. The will, bond-slave as it is, covets freedom. The subjected spirit craves to be once again in harmony with the spiritual Law. Is not this verified likewise by the history of mankind? In the ancient world, amid all the corruptions of heathendom, there were those who approved and desired the good. It shone before them in its fascinating beauty, and their eyes were fixed upon its fairness, and their souls were drawn in longing towards it. So is it still. Does not the Christ attract the gaze, the admiration even, of sinful men? And is there not stirred in many a sinful heart the longing to be at one with Christ? Yes; the spiritual Law attracts the approbation and desire of the spiritual in man. The Ego, the Self, the I, desires the good.

II. THE SUBJECTION TO THE EVIL . But is the desire accomplished? Alas! to desire the good is only to realize more intensely the utter subjection to evil. Man's spirit is enslaved to the flesh, and, through the flesh, to sin: "sold under sin." This thought also runs through the passage. And so abject is the enslavement, that the Ego is but the impotent instrument in the hands of sin. "It is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me," is the thrice-uttered plaint of the captive man. And thus the very motions of the will are made in blind submission: "that which I do I know not." Yea, even when the will would make some show of resistance, it is all in vain. For the rigid law which governs the whole nature, made to seem the more rigid in its defiance of that other holy Law of God, is—"to me who would do good, evil is present;" yes, present always, as an absolute, a mocking lord. Has not the world's history verified these things? Listen to its confessions: Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor; Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata ("I see the better things, and approve them; I follow the worse;" "We strive ever after what is forbidden, and desire the things denied to us"): so spake the heathen, in the ancient world. And is not this our experience still? We are "in the flesh," and in our flesh "dwelleth no good thing." Such is our natural state.

III. THE HOPELESS CONFLICT . And, this being so, is not our condition one of wretchedness, of despair? Perpetual war between the law of the mind and the law of the members; between the spirit and the flesh. But hopeless war; sin, through the flesh, triumphant always, mockingly triumphant. Yes, we may look, we may writhe in our efforts to escape; but we are bound—bound hand and foot. And so our own very body, intended to be the obedient instrument of the governing spirit, has become, by the supremacy of sin, a brute lord, and is a "body of death." Death unto death; darkness ever darker: is not the conflict hopeless? may we not well cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?"

Yes, hopeless in itself; no victory in us. But, thanks be to God, there is a mightier One, even Jesus; and he is our Helper, "mighty to save"!—T.F.L.

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